We’re Not In Oz Anymore

I am in Kansas now, in a friendly town called Garden City. Man, I’m glad I decided to make the drive from Chama to Lawrence in two days. I’m tired. Cumbres pass seems like a long time ago.

Because I was making the trip in two days, I didn’t worry about getting an early start. Eventually I made my way down the dirt road to the highway, paused to slather on sunscreen, and turned the car north. Chama was quiet (no surprise there) and the mile markers ticked away the short life of New Mexico road 17. As I slipped across the border into Colorado the native american radio station was playing the blues. I reached the station at Cumbres Pass just as the train pulled in with a final chuff, pausing to rest and make sure the brakes were in good shape before the long descent into Antonito. I had no such worries myself and carried on without hesitation.

I made my way through the high passes, happy to see patches of snow, and then down through drifting cottonwood fuzz. In a villiage whose name I didn’t catch, I passed a small church, roofless, windowless, the two towers flanking the door echoing the architecture of old spanish missions. Within, people were gathering, setting up folding chairs for a noontime mass. I imagine that God had a particularly good view of the pious folk gathering below.

Once past Antonito the terrain became less interesting, and I had time to wonder if the cumulus clouds building on the horizon were going to be relevant to me. I wasn’t too worried, the thunderstorms build up their energy over the mountains, and roads prefer to go between the peaks. Eventually the storms would break free of their terrestrial moorings and wander over the plain, but it was early yet for that sort of shenanigans.

I approached the bank of boiling clouds, and sure enough the road found a gap between them — almost. Suddenly the air turned chill and a few big drops smacked against the windshield. There was certainly no need to stop and put the top up, however, that would have allowed rain to come in. I carried on and was soon clear of the storm. The thunderhead gave chase, but there was no way it was going to catch me.

Highway 10 between Hollister and La Junta is the sort of road where you entertain yourself by measuring how many miles the road goes without turning (ten miles, twice, but no truly spectacular straightnesses). La Junta was all I expected it to be. I wondered as I drove into town, whether one of the farms I passed was where my buddy John grew up. There was no plaque or roadside monument that I saw, so there was no telling.

Note to La Junta signage people: Take all the signs that say highway 50 that are on roads other than highway 50, and put them on highway 50 instead. When you put up a sign that says “to highway 50” you might want to follow that up with the next turn that is also necessary to reach the promised road. I’m just saying is all.

Beyond La Junta I passed through scattered farming communities, including Hasty, CO (speed laws strictly enforced). Then, Kansas. The ranch land gradually gave way to better soil and farms, and by the time I reached Holcomb the rolling hills were gone and one could reasonably measure the curvature of the earth by observing distant grain silos. I had plenty of daylight, but no interest in driving further; not long after came Garden City and the promise of hotel rooms with Internet access.

I checked in and the friendly desk attendant showed me where to go for a burger and a beer, marking my course on a map. I followed the (quite simple) directions and drove directly to a great big church. An error on the clerk’s part, or a hint? Only God and clerk know, but after some searching I found the promised bar, and here I sit at Jax Sports Grille (A winning place!), tired, annoyed by a salty baked potato (though the burger wasn’t bad), checking over which parts of my body I missed with the sunscreen (back of left hand, inside of left elbow, small spot on right temple) and which parts could have used more (almost everywhere else). Sometimes the key to a good drive is knowing when to stop.

10 thoughts on “We’re Not In Oz Anymore

  1. Mogote

    And I think next to the ruined church was the old, now ruined gym where Jack Dempsey once fought — Kid Blackie grew up near Alamosa and Antonito (“Manassas Mauler”). Many tons of spuds come from this great high tilted valley, so it’s a pity the road trip paused at a dud spud.

  2. You were on the south side of the Arkansas river as you traveled east from La Junta on highway 50. Had you been on the north side of the river, on state highway 194, you would have passed the north-south county road that served as our driveway.

    Decades ago, my father nailed a little “Hensley” sign on top of a fence post down at the intersection of highway 194 and county road 33 so that visitors might have a clue where to turn to find us. As Fate would have it, the intersection of highway 194 and county road 33 fell at a locally significant point: The high school cross country team had to run from the school to the “Hensley” sign and back. That represented fairly significant mileage, and a small percentage of my Freshman-year classmates had a negative Pavlovian response to my last name. That’s probably the closest my family would come to a roadside plaque or monument — a vaguely-remembered resentment to a tin sign with our name on it.

    However, I’m glad I tempered your expectations of La Junta. It sounds like you weren’t disappointed, and I consider that a challenging job well done. Just consider me a roving ambassador for La Junta: “Lowering expectations for over 30 years!”

  3. So I have been away from the net for some time. I open your blog to find you wandering the roads of the mid west. If you feel the need for views and home brew, head to Mt Nebo.

  4. You’re just about to start the workshop and I’m excited for you, Jer.

    I must tell you that you’ve missed some epic RISK games lately, though.

  5. Are we talking about the LaJunta that is right near the Old Bent’s Fort historic park?

    /9 out of 10 squirrels prefer LaJolla to Lajunta

  6. I meant to put a link to my In Cold Blood review into the article. I stayed on 50 for quite a ways, then 56 and 156 up to 70. When they wanted to charge me toll I bailed onto highway 40 which luckily was going my way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *